Organized Panel Session
Late in the twelfth century, the Taira warrior clan sunk into the sea at Shimonoseki, together with the child-emperor Antoku (1178-1185, r.1180-1185) and the Sacred Sword of the Imperial regalia. The loss of an emperor and the Sword caused much anxiety, which was expressed both in contemporary diaries and in the immortalization of the Taira in texts such as the Tales of the Heike. Over the centuries, the fearsome Taira ghosts began to take form, particularly on stage as Nō actors embodied their angry sprits. It was only in the nineteenth century, however, that the ghosts of the fallen Taira became a subject in art. Popular prints depicting Antoku and his kin began to appear in the 1830s and continued through the last decades of the Edo Period. The emergence of Taira ghost prints coincides with rise of social unrest in the face of internal and external changes in Japan. The ghosts of the Taira were not alone, many images of spirits – angry or otherwise – were raised by print artists at this time. Yet, the Taira had a unique historical and political context that other spirits lacked. Edo was not a place for free socio-political expression, but through the gaze of the Taira spirits, print artists utilized the uncanny to comment on their everyday.